Book Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkeban by J.K. Rowling


Author: J.K. Rowling
Title: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkeban
Narrator: Jim Dale
Publication Info: Listening Library, 2000 [Originally published, 1999]
Summary/Review:

The third volume in the Harry Potter series may be my favorite of them all.  It’s hard to compare since the later books are so different from the earlier books that they’re almost a different genre.  The Prisoner of Azkeban is the last of the shorter, self-contained novels and the most well-plotted of the three.

In retrospect, it’s really impressive how well Rowling sells Sirius Black as a villain, knowing that he will become Harry’s mentor and father-figure.  I also like how this book establishes the background of the Marauders which sets the stage for the return of Voldemort and the Second Wizarding War in book 4.  But mostly it’s a ripping yarn, a mystery that somehow ties together a werewolf, a magical map, time travel, and Dementors, Rowling’s creepiest creatures of all.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)


Title: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 
Release Date: November 15, 2002
Director:  Chris Columbus
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Summary/Review:

Chris Columbus is not a particularly imaginative director which is apparent in this second movie of the series.  The first half of the movie seems to emphasize gags about the strangeness of the Wizarding World to an outsider, Harry, and just feels old-fashioned in a bad way.  The second half of the film is an (admittedly well-done) action movie, but it sacrifices character moments.  For these reasons I find this to be the weakest of the Harry Potter movie adaptations.

Some good features include Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart, a part he appears born to play.  Also, Dobby is introduced and is a good mix of special effects creating a suitably strange creature, but also has enough personality to work as a character.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling


Author: J.K. Rowling
Title: Harry Potter and the  Chamber of Secrets
Narrator: Jim Dale
Publication Info: Listening Library, 1999 [Originally published, 1998]
Summary/Review:

The second novel in the series is a delightful stand alone story that shows Harry facing challenges as an outsider in the Wizarding World at the school he loves, as well as introducing metaphors of racial prejudice regarding non-magical people.  This book introduces several elements important to the whole series including: Dobby the house elf, Parselmouth, polyjuice potion, Aragog the spider, and the first horcrux (albeit not named as such in this book). Most significantly, we learn about Lord Voldemort’s past, with Rowling cleverly introducing the young Tom Riddle by way of the diary. Professor Binns, the ghost history professor, also plays a key role in this book, and I, for one, am disappointed he never appeared in the movies. While I’d remembered that Gildroy Lockhart is a fraud, I’d forgotten that he was also villainous in how he stole people’s memories.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone by J.K. Rowling


Welcome to Harry Potter Week! My daughter became a huge fan of the Wizarding World this year so I’ve spent the past several months revisiting the books and watching the movies (some for the first time). I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the books and movies over the course of seven days.

Author: J.K. Rowling
Title: Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone
Narrator: Jim Dale
Publication Info: 1999 Listening Library
Summary/Review:

My wife read all the Harry Potter books to my daughter, so I had Jim Dale read them all to me (and what a charming reader he is). I am impressed at how much of the full story is established in the first book.  I mean Sirius Black is mentioned on the first page, for starters.  But the basics details of Hogwarts and the Wizarding World are all very well established in this book.  This novel is also a good stand-alone story (IIRC, so are the 2nd and 3rd books, while 4 through 7 are more of an ongoing story).  It’s hard to remember what I thought when I first read this book around 15 years ago, but I have to say it holds up well.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)


Title: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Release Date: November 16, 2018
Director: David Yates
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures | Heyday Films
Summary/Review:

This sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them reunites Newt Scamander with his friends Tina, Queenie, and Jacob for a new adventure largely based in Paris.  While the first movie was mostly a romp with unsettling danger bubbling in the background of the wizarding world, this movie foregrounds the growing conflict of Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) and the wizards who wish to stop him.  A young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) recruits Newt (Eddie Redmayne) to go to Paris to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller). Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob (Dan Fogler) join in to catch up with Tina (Katherine Waterston) who is already in Paris looking for Creedence.

What follows is a jumbled mess.  The storytelling is very poor here, as the film throws in some interesting fan service (an appearance by the 600-year-old Nicolas Flamel, a flashback to Newt’s days at Hogwarts), but really makes no effort to tie it into a sensible plot.  Depp mails it in as a boring Grindelwald, Zoe Kravitz is wasted in an underdeveloped role as Leta Lestrange, and worst of all the returning characters are poorly used.  Tina and Jacob are minimized in their roles, and Queenie – one of the most delightful and loving characters in the first film – becomes evil? Early in the movie she puts a love charm on Jacob and later she joins Grindelwald, all so that she can marry a No-Maj, even though Grindelwald is vehemently racist against non-magical peoples. I get the point is that good people support autocracy when they’re desperate, but her motivations here are nonsensical.

There are some big twists at the end of the movie that don’t help make this mess of a movie any better.  There are more Fantastic Beasts movies to come, but I’m not looking forward to them.

Rating: *1/2

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)


Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Release Date: November 18, 2016
Director: David Yates
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Summary/Review:

The first spinoff movie from Harry Potter’s Wizarding World introduces mazizooligist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), author of the eponomynous textbook used at Hogwarts.  Set in the 1920s, the British Scamander arrives in New York City with a suitcase full of magical creatures.  His ultimate purpose in being there is revealed slowly of the film, but first, hijinks!  Newt accidentally swaps suitcases with a non magical person, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and several creatures escape.  As Newt and Jacob look for the missing animals, they draw the attention of an American witch, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), who has recently lost her position as auror.  More hijinks ensue and Tina is forced to bring Newt and Jacob to her apartment and introduce them to her charming sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), who has the ability to read minds.

The film feels at first a comedy of errors and takes time to delight in introducing aspects of the Wizarding World outside of Hogwarts and Great Britain, with a lot of fun visual effects.  But there’s more going on here as the story unfolds.  First, there’s the New Salem Philanthropic Society, a 20th century heir to the Salem witch hysteria, who are openly promoting that wizads and witches are real (true, in the story) and need to be defeated. Second, the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald is on the loose and killing magical and non-magical people alike.

I enjoy the culture clashes between the British and American wizards.  Americans very practically call non-magical people “No-Maj” instead of “Muggles,” which sounds as silly as calling a truck a lorry, when you think of it.  Instead of a Ministry of Magic, the USA’s wizarding government is the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), where Tina works.  And even though only European schools participated in the Triwizarding tournament, there is an American school of witchcraft and wizardry as well, called Ilvermorny.  And I’ve learned from Wikipedia that Ilvermorny is in Massachusetts, on the peak of Mt. Greylock, so wizards also send their children to New England for their education.

Newt Scamander is very good with magical creatures, but is a bit awkward around people.  Redmayne plays his introversion well, and I enjoy seeing another quiet lead character in an action-fantasy film to go along with Rogue One.  Despite being the main character, Newt is more of the straight man to the quirkier characters of Jacob, Tina, and Queenie.  The leading quartet have a lot of chemistry and I enjoy seeing them playing of one another.  They carry the film that at times is a bit thin on plot.

Rating: ***